Trunki rolls out NetSuite to support e-commerce plans, rips out Sage

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez November 11, 2014
The business that grew to major success off the back of an appearance on Dragon's Den needed a system that could support a complex, global model.

Even if you haven't heard of the brand name 'Trunki', if you have been to an airport in the past five years or so you will not doubt recognise the company's product. Trunki launched in 2006 and became a global hit after an appearance on popular UK business pitching show Dragon's Den. Following some orders from some of the UK's biggest retailers, such as John Lewis, the colourful children's suitcases are now being sold in 92 countries across the globe.

Having experienced rapid growth and set up distribution centres in multiple countries, with warehouses in California, China and the UK - despite having only under 100 employees - Trunki needed a system that could support what it describes as a “complex set up in the shape of a very small business”.

Philip Bagnall, head of digital operations at Trunki, explains how the company had been using Sage Line 50, but as it grew and expanded into new markets and new e-commerce models, it was not longer fit for purpose. He says:

Now we are a company that is 36 strong in our HQ, with another 40 in our factory in Plymouth, we are manufacturing in China, plus we have various partners around the world in terms of distributors – Sage started to creak quite heavily.

I joined in 2010 and basically my role was head of supply chain operations. A few of the things on the supply chain operations side is forecasting, buying, currency exchanges, bringing stock from one entity, duty tax, duty landing costs – all of these things Sage can do through various workarounds, but then you have to feed that information back into Sage.

And then you have got to make a lot of manual corrections or look at bolt ons.

Bagnall wanted to get away from a server led system and take advantage of not having to maintain IT in the cloud, whilst also recognising that making use of Software-as-a-Service would let Trunki set up operations in a new region very quickly. NetSuite came out on top during the selection process and was rolled out in just six weeks at the end of 2012.

The company now has Trunki US, Trunki UK and Trunki Factory – three different subsidiaries, all with their own P&Ls, all consolidated within the one NetSuite system.

Bagnall also needed a system that could support Trunki's new e-commerce ambitions, which as of October included allowing customers to customise their Trunki suitcases online with different colours and personalised options – whilst ensuring that the product could still be manufactured and delivered to the customer's door within a week. He says:

What the customisation tool then does is it produces a work order via NetSuite that gets sent to the factory, so without something like NetSuite we would be working off spreadsheets and probably emailing elements down to the factory and then retro importing them into some Sage platform. Now we have got the sales order, which converts to a work order, the factory builds it and then that gets assembled, fulfilled and sent out. The whole process is quite fluid and automated.

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Implementing NetSuite wasn't about cost savings, according to Bagnall, as he knew that to get the functionality Trunki required, he was going to have to spend “a hell of a lore more” than what had been spent previously. He describes comparing Sage Line 50 and NetSuite as comparing apples and oranges, but what NetSuite allows Trunki to do is give different departments within the business access to the information that they need:

Sage Line 50 was falling over quite heavily in terms of the server – but it was frustrating because our sales guys couldn't get the data they wanted to get to, neither could the operations guys. It is a finance controlled product. What NetSuite does is allows us to open up the other channels and bring it all into one system, gives everyone their own piece that they can report on.

In terms of the rollout, one piece of advice that Bagnall has for other companies that may be considering a similar project, is that they should not try and replicate the processes of their previous system into their new one. That's exactly what Trunki tried to do, which resulted in them having to reassess after the initial implementation. Bagnall says:

Don't map out your system, based on your current system. Map it out how you want to do it and how you think is best to do it. Whichever vendor you bring in, see what they can achieve, your ideal dream. Because what you end up doing is copying and pasting what had been doing – but what that leaves you with is this huge space of potential of what you could have ended up doing.

If you put your ideals in, what the vendor should do is break that down and put that into the system – then what that is, is a business change programme

and you have to get your staff signed up to it from day one. We initially did a copy and paste and then we spent the next year realigning. Luckily we had that ability, but if you were a slightly larger company you would hit walls with that.

We got what we needed out of it, but then we started to improve upon it. I think it's very easy with the cloud to just flip a switch, but it's better to take a step back and map it out.

Although Bagnall is very happy with Trunki's NetSuite rollout, there are two things that he would like to see NetSuite bring to the table – both of which rely on them localizing more for the UK/EU market. Firstly, Bagnall wants to see NetSuite hurry up and deliver on its promised EU data centre, which CEO Zach Nelson this week did say is on its way.

However, unlike a lot of other companies operating in the region, Trunki doesn't want the data centre for data sovereignty reasons, it wants it for faster speeds:

[The data center in Europe] would make NetSuite quicker. I was in Las Vegas about ten months ago and I noticed the speed difference – and I was at a conference where the internet speed isn't always great. Whereas in the UK, it's not noticeably slow, but there's always going to be a slight latency issue. That would be a big benefit.

And secondly, Bagnall wants to see NetSuite customize its software more so that it caters for the EU region, in terms of user experience and how it produces reports. Bagnall has found that he has had to train up auditors and the like to use the system, as they are so used to using Sage:

Reporting functionality needs to be more tuned to UK and European style of reporting. One thing you are going to have for a company like NetSuite is that you're going to have people switching from Sage, which accountants love – they're used to using Sage, so you need to almost replicate that experience for accountants.

We have auditors come in and they are not that familiar with NetSuite, you almost have to teach them. Make it a little bit easier to push those kind of reports out in an environment where they feel okay with it. Get a few accountants in and ask them what they want, build a UK-style accounting reports.

Disclosure: At time of writing NetSuite is a premium partner of diginomica. 

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